Archive for June, 2008

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Still wild about you

June 25, 2008

A fun experiment to do is to queue up soul legend Al Green’s new album Lay It Down back to back with one of his early 70s efforts and to try and pick when the album changes. You’ll probably pick it, but only if you’re paying attention.

That’s partly because of producer ?uestlove’s attention to period detail (even bringing in the Daptone Horns to recreate the Hi Records sound), but also because the singing and songwriting are just stunning. Al is in amazing voice for a guy in his 60s and he gives it all he’s got. For a laid-back album, there’s a lot of passion.

And it’s VERY laid-back. Al isn’t signing about the kind of animal passions he lifted to high art in the early days. No, this is a guy who’s settled down into a quieter phase of life. Which makes it perfect love music for couples. Particularly people who’ve been together since Al started making records.

But there’s enough beauty for the rest of us to enjoy it too – and occasionally he gets his funk back on.

Al Green – Stay With Me (By The Sea)

Al Green – Standing In The Rain

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Easy prey

June 19, 2008

There’s really no fun in mocking Coldplay, especially not for someone who used to enjoy their music. I may write off my love of Parachutes as a youthful indiscretion (I was still under 20), but I’ll still defend any number of their early singles. That said, their drubbing at the hands of the critics has been of their own making.
By X&Y, the songwriting formula was so set and predictable and the lyrics so generic that it seemed like Chris Martin was sleeping on the job.

With this in mind, I was dubious about their claimed reinvention at the hands of Brian Eno. Sure, Eno worked wonders with U2 back in the 80s, but he’d have a hard time making them any good these days. And do we have such short memories? Barely 6 years ago, Coldplay were “reinventing” themselves with some help from Echo & The Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch. Remember the “experimental” first track, “Politik”? And remember how A Rush of Blood to the Head only cemented Coldplay in the charts and properly defined their sound?

Then there came the grudging praise from hipster luminaries like Pitchfork and Popmatters and I wondered if maybe the hype was half right.

Now, having heard Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends, I’d call it about 10% right. I don’t want to talk about the lyrics or the mundane singalong choruses. If I could sentence a song to death for its crimes, “42” would be first against the wall. “Lost” would need a bloody good attorney. But occasionally the experimental flourishes work and I find myself enjoying it.

I mean, c’mon, the segue at the end of “Yes!” sounds like My Bloody Valentine. And “Viva La Vida” is a pretty good pop song. If you hate Coldplay, this won’t be enough for you, but for me it’s a minor blessing.

Coldplay – “Yes!”

Coldplay – “Viva La Vida”

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Musique noire

June 15, 2008

For all the jaunty British pop that’s been clogging up the airwaves in recent years, very little of it has sounded like the “Britpop” of my teenage years. Their influences are different and their approach is a lot more abrasive, to my ears at least. At risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, that’s a little bit disappointing.

Someone who does summon up memories of those long summers is Jim Noir, a mid-20s Brit whose electronic-infused take on classic pop makes me think of the Super Furry Animals or the Boo Radleys or the Charlatans. It’s like crack for someone with premature nostalgia.

His second, self-titled album is excellent and full of laid-back, vaguely psychedelic pop music. If you have a BBQ or something to soundtrack, you could do a lot worse.

Jim Noir – “All Right”

Jim Noir – “Ships and Clouds”

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It’s 1997 all over again

June 13, 2008

Over at a friend’s place the other week, we were listening repeatedly to a couple of the best albums of the last twelve months – by Portishead and Radiohead.

Now that’s a sentence that could easily have been used 11 years ago. Radiohead were riding high off their landmark OK Computer and Portishead had followed up their absurdly popular debut with a darker but equally brilliant disc, Portishead.

In 2008, we’ve got Radiohead’s In Rainbows, which I’ve talked about elsewhere, and Portishead’s long awaited Third. In the intervening years, Radiohead have put out three full lengths and a couple of other discs, while Portishead have been missing in action.

When you do something like disappear for a decade, you can either “reunite” and embark on a greatest hits type tour, or you can pretend you never really went away and take up where you left off. Portishead have taken the second approach – and pretty literally, because Third doesn’t really sound like it would have been out of place ten years ago. In fact, its none-more-dark reworking of the classic Portishead sound isn’t so different to what Massive Attack did with their sound on 1998’s Mezzanine.

It’s still made remarkable by Beth Gibbons’ heart-wrenching vocals and by some brilliant arrangements. Whatever year it is, it’s an album to get involved in.

Portishead – “The Rip”

Portishead – “Machine Gun”

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Evil albums

June 10, 2008

I’ve been avoiding this post because it actually breaks my heart a little bit. I’d prefer to write a post complaining about the lack of a My Morning Jacket album in 2008, rather than having to write about the album that they’ve released.

Kentucky country-rockers MMJ won me over with It Still Moves in ’03 and Z in ’05 and made me look into their backcatalog with the barnstorming live set Okonokos. But honestly, the new album Evil Urges makes me wonder if this is the same band. I mean, they were never a straight-up rock ‘n’ roll band and they’ve mined some weird territory before, especially on Z, but it was alway good.

Now in the first three tracks we’re given barely warmed-up Prince parodies (“Highly Suspicious” – I’d rather not talk about it all) and only tolerable MMJ-by-numbers (“Evil Urges”). It all just seems lazy and contemptuous.

Still, it’s rare that a competent band produces an album that’s ALL bad, so we get the minor blessing of a pretty song like “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1”. Albums like this are what iTunes was invented for.

My Morning Jacket – “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1”

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Bedroom philosophy

June 9, 2008

I’m not the first person to observe that Australian indie music sticks pretty closely to a safe template of mid-90s Britpop and 70s rock ‘n’ roll. So it’s always exciting when an artist comes along who doesn’t have time for any kind of categorisation.

Melbourne’s Ned Collette’s blend of acoustic folk and weird bedroom electronic experimentalism isn’t unique in itself – Machine Translations’ J Walker has been doing something similar for years – but he has an ability to use those same ingredients to make something idiosyncratic.

Take the droning, looped melody of “Sell Your Life”, with Collette’s mantra-like vocals – you could probably pigeonhole it into a genre, but it wouldn’t do any sort of justice at all.

His album from last year, Future Suture, seems to have garnered some local fans and critical support, but he’s a long way from filling even mid-sized venues. I guess that’s the price you pay for being one of a kind.

Ned Collette – “Sell Your Life”

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A Minor Comeback

June 8, 2008

This happens occasionally – a UK band catches a buzz, rockets up the local charts and then…completely fails to break anywhere else. London four-piece My Vitriol did just that back in the early part of the decade with some amazing effects-pedal-heavy singles, sort of Foo Fighters by way of My Bloody Valentine. After their album Finelines failed to get any real traction, they disappeared.

After five years on hold, Som Wardner must have called the others up and said “Hey guys, I’m thinking of getting the band back together”. So last year they put out a new EP, A Pyrhhic Victory, which I only discovered recently.

A nice little taste of what the second album might be like? I hope so, if this piano ballad by way of the Cocteau Twins is anything to go on.

My Vitriol – “Lord Knows How I’ve Tried (Mellow Version)”